The Five Trials of Fundy

Fundy Adventure Rally: Come for the riding, and return in hopes it doesn't rain next year. Photo: Daniel Espinosa

“All right — we’re doing the Fundy Adventure Rally this year,” said Big Boss Jacob to me.

Result! I immediately planned on prepping the DR350 for another assault on New Brunswick’s trails and tracks.

“Oh, and you’re doing it on a Yamaha TW200,” he continued.

Hrm. Well, this just got a lot more interesting. The TW200 is usually aimed at the cottager market, not at the long-distance off-road rally enthusiast, But hey, they’ve popped up at the Fundy event a few times over the years, and I like a challenge. Bring it on!

Thursday night before the rally, Jacob showed up with the T-Dub in tow, on loan from Yamaha Canada. Friday, I put about 50 klicks on it to get familiar with the bike. Saturday, we were up well before 6 a.m. to see if the forecast mini-monsoon would actually arrive and interrupt our plans for offroading.

It did. And thus began the Five Trials of Fundy.

Trial by Monsoon

Surely it won’t rain that much,” I muttered grimly as I repeatedly checked the weather on Friday. With a 100 per cent chance of precipitation forecast for Saturday, and 40-50 mm of rain predicted, I was already experiencing flashbacks to 2015’s soggy rally.

Zac grimly awaits his fate on the TW200, ready on the starting line. Photo: Daniel Espinosa

I woke up Saturday around 5:30 a.m. with nary a drop falling, but within a few minutes, the downpour started with a vengeance. I scarfed down breakfast, then went to sit at the starting line with Jacob, who was keen to do a full slate of C routes, the hardest sections possible, in order to finish with enough points for Gold status (sounds like a VISA card application when you put it like that). We were first to arrive at the starting line, but my enthusiasm was dampened, no pun intended, by the steady trickle of rain running down the back of my jacket into the waistband of my rain pants, down my backside, through my underwear, all the way to my boots.

At last year’s rally, I’d forgotten my rain jacket and had paid for it all day long, so I knew all too well what lay ahead — this would be an all-day battle against misery. But at least it was warm, and for now, the adrenaline was flowing as we rolled out the gate. Time to tackle the trails!

While many riders started the day expecting to conquer a steady diet of C routes, the challenges presented by the weather soon changed that plan. Photo: Daniel Espinosa
Trial by GPS

Alas, we’d barely even gone a kilometre when we hit our second trial. Both my usually-trusty Garmin and Jacob’s TomTom GPS decided they’d crap out before the first turn of the trail. So much for our early start! There’s nothing more infuriating than technology that fails at the exact point it’s needed. We wasted about 10 minutes fiddling with them after taking a wrong leg of the trail, allowing everyone else to get ahead and put down ruts. Oh well — given that we were on a Kawasaki KLX250 and Yamaha TW200, they would have passed us anyway, and this way, we could at least follow their tracks. Just as mysteriously as they quit, both GPS units seemed to resume working, more or less, and we were down the trail in the right direction. Onwards and upwards!

A swampy, flooded trail, and this was the easy A route. The B and C routes, with their water crossings, were in far worse shape. Photo: Ken Smith
Trial by Terrain

At the Fundy Adventure Rally, there are five legs, each with options for A, B and C routes that have fairly wide-open, easy sections of gravel or dirt roads. What sets the B and C routes apart from A routes is the hard (B) and harder (C) sections included that require skill and/or dumb luck to circumnavigate. GPS units sorted, Jacob and I were coping with the rain (neither of us could see out of our goggles at this point, and were riding sans eye protection) when we hit the hardest section of section 1C, a heavily rutted, muddy hill climb that was filled with slick, slippery tree roots. Nasty stuff indeed, if you’re on a full-sized adventure bike, and this is where we caught up with the Awesome Players team, as they barreled their bikes up the hill, one-by-one. Jacob and I dismounted and helped a couple get up the tricky hill.

Now it was time for me and Jacob to make our assault on the hill. Cleverly, I looked to the side and noticed a handy little bypass through the woods. No problemo! I simply bulled the T-Dub off-track, ran among the trees, and hopped back on the trail a few metres later. Jacob followed me — problem solved!

Or so we thought. There was more of the same for quite a stretch down the route, and while we were able to mostly handle it, a couple of times one of us had to dismount and push the other bike through, and Jacob ended up with a boot full of water when he had an unintended dismount mid-stream at one point.

I snickered confidently, thinking my Yamaha’s massive knobby tires would prevent that sort of unpleasantry. Alas, the oversized front tire didn’t steer exactly as I expected on a relatively easy downhill turn on a gravel road, and Jacob had a prime view of what he called my “hilarious, drawn-out crash,” in which I ended up dropping the bike on its right side and throwing my body into a slow-mo roll into the gravel.

With no damage outside of some scratched bodywork, we rolled on. And on, and on. It was slow going down the bumpy sections on the Yamaha, as its engine can’t really get you going very fast, and if you do pick up some speed, the suspension doesn’t handle bumps very well (might have something to do with the rider, too – Ed.). Thanks to my lack of speed, we were taking longer than we should to complete Section 1C, and there were four more sections to go. But if nothing else went wrong, we’d at least be able to bomb down some easy A routes and finish, right?

Trial by Gasoline

Just as we started rolling into the more civilized sections of the trail through Fundy National Park, my bike did the classic sputter-sputter-cough-die routine. I’ve run out of gas enough times to know the symptoms. I switched to Reserve, and told Jacob we’d better find fuel ASAP. I had no idea how much farther I could ride the T-Dub, as I wasn’t sure of its exact range, especially under these conditions. I’d filled up only 15 kilometres before starting the rally, but the hard riding was burning through the tiny tank.

We pessimistically assessed the situation (funny how the rain affects your thinking in these situations), and wondered if we should just bail now, before we were stuck on the trail in rough shape. But I figured we’d better press on, to see if a solution presented itself.

Sure enough, it did. I spied a trailside campsite, with visitors from Massachusetts tenting on their family’s property. I then spied a chainsaw, which meant the visitors most likely had gas. I was in luck! Not only did they have a fresh jug of fuel, but they hadn’t mixed the two-stroke oil in yet. A gallon in my tank, and I was back down the road. We were still in it!

Trial by Machine
And that was it. The derailed chain bent a link, and we had to call for a pickup. Photo: Jacob Black

But — just a few klicks down the road from the camp, disaster struck when the TW200 threw its chain for the second time. The Yamaha has a light 428-pitch chain; in my experience, 428 chain wears very quickly under a heavy rider, and we’d already had the chain come off the sprocket once before, in a particularly rocky, bumpy section. Now it happened again, and the chain was a tangled mess around the rear axle. And the rain had picked up steam, absolutely pouring with a vengeance.

Still, Jacob and I took out the toolkits and thought we’d had it sorted, until we saw a bent chain link. Whether a flying rock had gotten jammed between the sprocket and chain and caused the bend and the derailment, or whether the chain had simply stretched and then warped around the axle as it came off, I’m still not sure.

Shame! Zac hangs out at the Forty Five River covered bridge with some other riders, who took pity on his lack of preparation and shared their granola bars with him. Photo: Ken Smith

But what Jacob and I were sure of was that we were done. With no chain-breaking tools and no spare links, there was nothing to do but push the bike downhill to the Forty-Five River’s covered bridge and wait for someone to come from rally HQ and pick me up with a trailer. I was grateful for the cover from the downpour; I was soaked head to toe, and was able to dry out just a bit, but both Jacob and I were pretty cold at this point, even using his Kawasaki’s exhaust to warm our hands. We were maybe five hours into the rally and still on the first leg, but we were done.

Given how close we were to the camp where I’d been given the gas, I was worried my benefactor would drive past, berate me for my stupidity and ask for his fuel back. Thankfully, this didn’t happen …

By mid-afternoon, we were both back at rally HQ; It wasn’t how we wanted to finish, but at least we were dry.

All’s well that ends well! The rain stopped in the evening, and Larry Adair used a forklift to load up the bonfire with wood. Photo: Daniel Espinosa
The Aftermath

Jacob ended up accompanying more rescue missions in an SUV, but I stuck around Adair’s Wilderness Lodge to hear the stories of other riders who’d already crashed out or called it quits. The attrition rate was high, as many riders had found the rainy conditions overly challenging, particularly due to low visibility. But the stories from the riders who trickled in after finishing were impressive.

One rider suffered a rear wheel bearing failure, which in turn put a hole in his rear hub. His solution? Continue riding, but stop to squirt lube down into the hole every once in a while. In his words, “The farther I went, the better it felt!”

You’ve got a blown wheel bearing and a broken hub? No problem, just squirt lube down that hole and keep going! Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Another rider suffered a tire puncture, but couldn’t find the leak. His solution? Pump the tire up to 10 psi, and ride 500 metres, then pump the tire back up to 10 psi and ride another 500 metres, and so on, until he was able to reach a gas station with a proper air pump to fix it many kilometres later.

Another squad, this one a just-married husband and wife, managed to find their way back after the water leaking through their units chewed up 12 sets of GPS batteries. There were some teams who even managed to complete water crossings that looked deep enough to handle a boat.

But despite all the difficulty bashing through the woods in absolutely rotten weather (I heard reports later that Sussex had 100 mm of rain on Saturday), I didn’t hear anybody complain about the ride. Just the opposite! Even the riders who failed to finish were coming up with a strategy for next year’s event.

As for me, I’ve got my own plan: If I can avoid blowing it up between now and next August, I’ll be back at FAR, and I’ll be on the DR350 again. I’ll be able to make sure it’s well-sorted for the event, and hopefully, the weather will be just a bit better. Five years in and I’ve only run the rally twice and never finished the main event yet. I’ve got some catching up to do!

Sunday saw the usual awards ceremony, with only one team achieving Gold status, and a handful achieving Silver.


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